by Kevin Ahearn
The debate over “director’s cut” has been raging on and off line and it is an issue that cuts both ways. And it’s just not about films.
Imagine if Leonardo Da Vinci returned from beyond and insisted on adding blond highlights to his Mona Lisa claiming he intended to all along, but couldn’t mix the right color. Oh, the brouhaha!
Consider the armless Venus de Milo: after the statue had been presented to King Louis XVIII around 1820, his art advisors sought the assistance of French sculptors in supplying the missing arms. They devised arms which held apples, garments, lamps and arms that held nothing at all but pointed in various directions.
Finally the king decreed that her marvelous beauty should not be marred by any other sculptor. It was a momentous decree which resulted in ancient statues being left practically as they had been found. What if the original lost arms were suddenly unearthed? Should Venus’ limbs be restored, would that change our opinion of the finally completed masterpiece?
Like so many who read this column, I saw the original Star Wars in 1977. But imagine, if before that glorious opening scrawl, a warning appeared, declaring that we would be seeing an unfinished work, which, if enough box office money were earned, the film would be completed at a later date. Would we have felt any differently?
Whether Lucas’ changes are for the better or for the worse is not the issue; by revising his films, he’s telling us that we did not see the definitive Star Wars, and that rankles us true believers to the core.
In 1931, director James Whale faced different circumstances. He had shot Frankenstein’s monster throwing a young child into a lake and letting her drown. When the Universal suits saw the finished product, they were aghast. Surely this horrific film had to be toned down and it was. For decades, no audience would see the child hit the pond. When restored, did that make the “complete” film better? Ask anyone who saw the original and the reaction will be different from those who hadn’t.
King Kong, in 1933, was released as its creators wanted it, but in later years, long lost outtakes were discovered and restored to the film, including Kong’s chewing and stomping of Skull Islanders and New Yorkers, scenes which Willis O’Brien, the monster’s FX creator, specifically wanted omitted. (The infamous “strip scene” was as released. Like I’d ever forget it?) The ultimate missing sequence is that of giant spiders devouring the sailors after Kong smote them from the tree trunk “bridge.” In the late 1950s, a single grainy photo appeared in Famous Monsters of Filmland which had all Kong fans dying to see it.
Have the restored and yet to be restored scenes made Kong an even better movie? I never thought so, but that’s my expectations talking. Re-released in theaters in 1953 (after it had been on TV!), I saw the original version as a child and to me, it remains the definitive Kong. The added scenes may be interesting, but nothing more.
That, in a real sense, defines the difference between the original and any later cut, director’s or not. If the film is good, scenes brought back from the cutting room floor are worth seeing, even if they shouldn’t have been in the film in the first place. Blade Runner, E.T., Alien, and Superman are must-sees in all their versions, but who wants to watch any cut of Wild, Wild West, Catwoman and Batman and Robin?
Copyright © 2004 by Kevin Ahearn